Inside the 2017 Freestyle Worlds with James Mc Beath – #2 A CASE FOR SQUIRT
Everyday during the 2017 ICF World Freestyle Championships, Jackson Kayak’s James McBeath is sending us his off beat views on what is going in San Juan where the worlds are taking place this year. Right about now, James McBeath should be sitting uncomfortably on a rock in Argentina covering his 11th World Freestyle Championships. Buuuut he’s not. He’s sitting comfortably in the snow of Eastern Canada watching on from the proverbial online peanut gallery. Follow along each day as he recaps what he sees from a distance. Photography: Peter Holcombe/ famagogo.com
Today I sit glued to the scrunch of the live feed, sipping my cinnamon and frothy latte hoping for a glimpse at the crowds lining the shores of the San Juan. Sadly the first live feed we get access to seems to stem from a solitary cactus on river right who has paid for the wifi and has an old Commodore 64 streaming the feed to us. Heard the pro live feed comes in later today, phew. Its time for the Squirt prelims.
In 2015, the last Squirt Boating World Championships there was no live streaming and the crowd were huddled on river left on the Ottawa River trying to avoid roots to find a nice mossy spot to sit and watch. Unfortunately most fans who were not at the venue itself had to find out scores later that day as there was no wifi and barely a cell phone signal. Even then, the high scores of the Ottawa’s famous « Smoothie” eddy were overshadowed, across the social media, with Jez Jez’s stunning proposal to Claire O’hara of the UK. Claire said “yes” and went on to dramatically win the World’s alongside Stephen Wright (another great heart warming story). Stephen was not proposed to; His was more a story of hard work and a “couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy” kinda story.
If I blur the eyes a bit and look at the 2015 Worlds I have to say the most drama happened at the Squirt competition but, disappointingly, it was hosted at a separate venue from the main championships, not as well publicized and not broadcasted live. Squirt takes second fiddle again. This year it is featured at the main venue and has a live feed. This is a great step in the right direction as I believe squirt deserves to come out from the shadows of the main disciplines and cease being the red-headed step-child of freestyle!
The argument for squirt is simple: You have all the elements you would want to see from freestyle with, no air (in both senses; vertical and breath), a more direct connection to the river and incredible people involved! First off, and pretty important, there are no real ‘flushes’ so there are no “groan he’s missed it” rides at all. Yes the river controls all, but there is always something to be scored no matter where the paddler is on the river. If anything you have three separate types of scoring opportunities: in the hole, in the eddy and under the water.
If you see videos of our top squirt athletes, the Stephen Wright’s, Claire O’hara, Hitomi Takaku, Clay Wright and Dane Jackson, you see incredible athleticism mixed with technical skill, timing and balance. Its a dance. Its freestyle slowed down in bite sized routines where the common man can actually recognize moves and be impressed at the accomplishment of delivering them. The lower volume boats means that if the river has other plans, you have to adapt and go with it, a true man vs nature thing. Just watch some of these folks in their squirt routine, then watch a top hole-rider do their thing in a regular freestyle kayak. You will see the difference immediately.
The other cool factor is that squirt boaters are, well, squirt boaters. Last world’s photos of Clay Wright with his massive goggles comes to mind. Videos of squirt boaters “exploring the depths” in super deep mystery moves shows them dancing with the water, pirouetting around logs and rocks at the bottom in whitewater’s silence as the world goes by above their heads. These are cool cats and they are all just a little bit crazy and of the stuff caricatures are made of. The most important character trait for a squirt boater is that they are just out there having a blast (pun intended). No tense moments in the eddy talking to coaches before rides, no “YOU CAN DO THIS” speeches, no dramatic fist pumping; just the pure joy of boating. If you can find the video of the last worlds you will see Stephen Wright’s win at the last worlds (Watch it HERE). After an incredible mystery move, capping off a record scoring ride, he spun to the audience and simply raised his hands in what seemed like a hug of the universe. Super cool moment and one of the best examples of squirt character I’ve seen.
It’s already midnight here in the Great White North and we will all wake up this morning to two new world champions in Clay Wright and Claire O’hara, both no strangers to the top podium. The finals, in awesome HD live stream coverage, proved itself in entertainment value. A presumptuous “I told you so” is being sent via my fingers to you through the inter web. Both mens and women’s finals went down to the last ride, featured wise vets vs new blood and more of the stuff that makes good watching. Echoing one of the commentators, I too felt my own abs ache watching the technically difficult moves being laid to the river. Once again we saw man/woman vs river, once again we saw the fight, the groovy characters and were completely entertained.
It was a close call this year for the Women’s squirt as athlete numbers were down and traditional squirt boats are still low in numbers. Thats a sign not to give up, but to reestablish numbers in squirt by making it a priority in freestyle! Its time to encourage the youth of today to follow the immortal words of Jacques Cousteau, famous oceanographer, « explore da depts”. Time for all of us to find a friend with size 13 feet and a boat and give it a try. Time to make sure host nations continue to keep squirt at the forefront with finals on Final’s day (hint, hint ICF!!). I say long live squirt boating!
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